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Giving real wings to Flights of fancy

The history of flight emerged from dreams to soar through the sky like a bird. Birds seem to fly with so little effort that it was only natural that early attempts of flying emulated birds. Early myths about flight and probably many attempts involved carving wings out of birds’ feathers. Since ancient times, it was believed that the mechanism of bird flight was more complicated than it appeared to the naked eye.

Nearly all ancient literatures contain myths about flying deities. The gods of ancient Egypt, Minoa and Mesopotamia were often depicted as having magnificent wings. Greek gods flew without any visible means. To the people of ancient civilizations, flying was the province of the gods. Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier invented a hot air balloon in 1783 carrying a sheep and a duck. On 21 November 1783, two men flew for 25 minutes over Paris in a hot air balloon. George Cayley was the first to perform various experiments with gliders. In 1849, Cayley made a glider that could fly carrying human being. He carried out numerous experiments and generated a lot of scientific data for aeronautics.

On 17 December 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright, two bicycle mechanics who had no understanding of principles of flight, propulsion and aircraft structures, developed the flying machine named Flyer I and gave wings to the world. Orville Wright flew the Flyer 1 at 10.35am at Kitty Hawk beach, North Carolina. The first flight lasted 12 seconds and covered a total distance of 120 feet. The aircraft crashed after the fourth flight by Wilbur Wright which lasted for 59 seconds and covered a distance of 853 feet. This was the first powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine. Prior to that, people had flown only in balloons and gliders.


When India organised first aircraft flight


The introduction of aircraft in 1903 generated immense interest among aviation fraternity in using them for mail transport. India has the distinction of organising the first flight by an aircraft in the world. The first official flight took-off on 18 February 1911 in Allahabad, India, when Henri Pequet carried 6,500 letters for a distance of 13 km. The first scheduled air service began in Florida on 1 January 1914. Glenn Curtiss had designed an aircraft that could take-off and land on water.

After first flight in the year 1911, it took more than 20 years for the country to have its own airline. On 15 October 1932, Tata Sons Ltd., which later became Air India International, commenced weekly airmail service with a Puss Moth aircraft between Karachi and Madras via Ahmedabad and Bombay, covering a distance of over 1,300 miles.

The history of the Indian Aircraft Industry can be traced to the founding of Hindustan Aircraft Limited at Bangalore in December 1940 in association with the erstwhile princely State of Mysore and late Seth Walchand Hirachand, an Industrialist of extraordinary vision. The Indian Government bought one-third stake in the company by April 1941. The decision by the government was primarily motivated to boost British military hardware supplies in Asia to counter the increasing threat posed by Imperial Japan during the World War II. After India gained independence in 1947, the management of the company was passed over to the Government of India and was renamed as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on 1 October 1964 when Hindustan Aircraft Limited was merged with Aeronautics India Limited and Aircraft Manufacturing Depot, Kanpur to form Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).


Department of Civil Aviation is formed  


The Civil Aviation Department was created in April 1927. Prior to that, the Indian Air Board was entrusted with the responsibility to render advice to Government on matters pertaining to civil aviation. The Board was part of the Department of Industries and Labour. In the year 1926, the Standing Finance Committee of the Indian Legislative Assembly mooted a proposal for appointment of special officer to organise civil aviation in India. The proposal got accepted by the Indian Legislature and the first Director of Civil Aviation assumed his charge on 5 April 1927. The civil aviation department was reorganised and strengthened in 1945-46 and was placed under the charge of Director General of Civil Aviation.

After World War II, as many as eleven private domestic airlines operated in India. Supply-demand was not in balance as the Indian aviation market was still in a fledgling state. Till early 1953, nine airlines were operating air services in India namely Air India International Ltd., Air India Ltd., Indian National Airways Ltd., Air Services of India Ltd., Bharat Airways Ltd., Airways (India) Ltd., Deccan Airways Ltd., Himalayan Aviation Ltd. and Kalinga Airlines.

Due to soaring prices of aviation fuel, mounting salary bills and disproportionately large fleets comprising too many war surplus aircraft, all the airlines were sick, beyond recovery and were making heavy losses. The financial health of companies declined despite liberal government support. As a result, it was decided to nationalise the airlines by forming one domestic carrier and one international flag carrier.

The government nationalised the airlines industry in 1953, with enactment of Air Corporation Act, and assets of nine existing air companies were transferred to the two new corporation’s viz. Air India International and the Indian Airlines. Eight erstwhile private airlines were merged to form Indian Airlines Corporation, namely Deccan Airways, Bharat Airways, Air India, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga Airlines, Indian National Airways, Air Services of India and Airways (India). Indian Airlines took over all the domestic routes and routes to Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, Iran and Afghanistan. Air India took over all the long distance international routes. The fleet was fairly big consisting of 73 DC-3 Dakotas, 12 Vikings, 3 DC-4s and some other smaller aircraft.


Port of Call

The number of airports gradually increased over a period of time, which included five international airports at Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and Trivandrum. Upto1972 DGCA was the regulator as well as the service provider for CNS and ATM and also managed all the airports of the country. In the year 1972, International Airport Authority of India was established to manage four major international airports viz. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. National Airport Authority of India was formed in June 1986.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) was later formed by the merger of International Airports Authority of India (IAAI) and National Airports Authority (NAA) through Airports Authority Act, which came into existence on 1 April 1995 with a view to accelerate the integrated development, expansion and modernization of the operational, terminal and cargo facilities at the airports in the country conforming to international standards.

The first feeder airline in India named Vayudoot was formed in January 1981 as a joint- venture between the two state-owned carriers i.e. Indian Airlines and Air India. The airline was originally conceived to serve the North-East region. It started with retired flight crew of Indian Airlines to fly the HS-748 and F-27 aircraft and later Dornier DO-228 aircraft. Despite a successful run of over a year, the services were discontinued because of demanding nature of the operation due to which its financial performance started deteriorating which finally led to the dissolution of the company and merger of its assets into Indian Airlines in 1993. In April 1997, the flight operations of Vayudoot were transferred to Indian Airlines and its employees were absorbed in Indian Airlines and Air India.

The Indian aviation sector was characterised by high degree of government control prior to 1990. Pursuant to enactment of Air Corporations Act, there were only two players left in the Indian aviation sector, both of which were owned and controlled by the Indian government. Indian Airlines was earmarked to primarily serve the domestic sector alongside operations to a few select international destinations while Air India served the international sectors.


Getting private

With the objective to boost tourism and to augment domestic air services, private airlines were allowed to operate under Air Taxi Scheme, 1986. The operations were restricted to only notified airports with a maximum 10-seater aircraft manufactured abroad and 19 seater aircraft manufactured in India, no operations two hours before/after scheduled operations of national carrier and airfares equivalent to that of Vayudoot.

Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd. (PHHL) was incorporated on 15 October 1985 as Helicopter Corporation of India (HCL). The prime objective of the country’s national helicopter company was to provide helicopter services to the oil sector for its off-shore exploration operations, services in remote areas and charter services for promotion of tourism. It is a government owned enterprise with 78.5 per cent  in government hands and 21.5 per cent with ONGC who has increased its stake to 49 per cent recently. PHHL is an approved maintenance centre of Eurocopter and also the first ISO 9001 certified aviation company in India.

With the announcement of extensive liberalisation in May 1990, the civil aviation sector in India grew with private sector players permitted as air taxi operators. However, they were not permitted to operate scheduled services. A number of private players commenced domestic operations as air taxi operators including Jet Airways, Air Sahara, Modiluft, Damania Airways, NEPC Airlines and East West Airlines. Ceiling on maximum seats was removed with fare restriction abolished and time restriction withdrawn. Flights were permitted to all airports open to scheduled operations. However, these operations remained confined to highly profitable routes. It was then decided in December 1990 that operators will have to operate one flight below 700 km for each flight operated on more than 700 kms sector distance. It was only in 1994 that the Air Corporations Act was repealed and restrictions on the operation of scheduled air transport services were removed. With a view to achieve better regulation of air transport services and taking into account the need for air transport services of different regions in the country, the government issued Route Dispersal Guidelines.

In accordance with the Route Dispersal Guidelines, all routes were divided into three categories viz. Category I, II and III. The route network existing at the time of formulation of route dispersal guidelines was evaluated based on capacity deployment on routes in terms of available seat kilometres deployed. Route categorisation was based on traditionally surplus generating routes (Category I), loss making routes (Category II) and the remaining routes (Category III). The Category I routes were largely inter-metro routes and generated surplus that cross-subsidized losses largely on Category II routes which served regions of difficult terrain and destinations in remote areas. Implementation of route dispersal guidelines aimed at ensuring that all players in the liberalised era would deploy capacity to destinations in remote areas and would participate equitably in providing air transportation to remote areas.


Aviation industry in India comes of age

In March 1994, following the repeal of the Air Corporations Act, private carriers were permitted to operate scheduled services and granted scheduled carrier status upon fulfilment of certain applicable criteria. However, many of these airlines could not sustain their businesses and closed operations by 1997. Among the private airlines which started operations with the deregulation of the Indian civil aviation sector, only two continued their operations in the country viz. Jet Airways and Air Sahara till 2003, when the Indian Government gradually permitted Air Deccan, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, Go Air, Paramount Airways and IndiGo to commence scheduled air services. Paramount Airways operations were suspended in the year 2010 due to safety issues. The airline has yet to recommence its operations.

In view of continued growth in Indian economy and to promote air connectivity between different regions of the country, the concept of scheduled regional air transport services was introduced in India in the year 2007 . To start with, Star Aviation, MDLR Airlines, Jagson Airlines and ZAV Airways were granted permission to commence scheduled regional air transport services.  The aviation scenario in India from 2007 onwards witnessed consolidation through mergers of two state-owned carriers, Indian Airlines and Air India. The merged airline is operating under the brand of ‘Air India’ both domestically and internationally. The year 2007 also witnessed Jet Airways acquiring Air Sahara which was renamed as JetLite. Kingfisher Airlines acquired 26 per cent of Air Deccan shares with additional 20 per cent from the open market.

Due to extreme uncertainty over the future of oil prices and slowing economy, coupled with low fares and excess capacity in the market, airlines are bound to suffer huge financial losses in the immediate future and the industry as a whole may see either further consolidation in the form of mergers or foreign investments.

Lalit Gupta is DDG DGCA and Hon’y Treasurer (HQ), while Debashis Saha is Member Council Aeronautical Society of India and Treasurer Delhi Branch
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